The reality of “ducking” is that the choice of opposition is rarely up to the fighter and unlike most fans would like to believe, fighters usually aren’t afraid of each other. The notion of building up fighters has been a longstanding tradition in the world of boxing. Most fighters are tuned up by their promoters and progressively, by working their way up the rankings slowly to ensure that when a huge payday comes, they won’t be unprepared.
As a promoter, shielding your prospects and fighters is a way to protect your investments and hopefully get a bigger turnout for their fights. In recent boxing history, perfect records have always equated to bigger numbers, regardless of entertainment value, so why would a promoter risk putting their stars at risk if the reward isn’t worth the risk?
Given the divided landscape of the boxing business, promoters shielding fighters is inevitable, but when does this practice make sense and when should it start to blow up in their faces?
Over the past few weeks, three of boxing’s biggest promotions have caught flack for what fans perceive as shielding their fighters, and each and every one of those examples exemplify a scenario in which shielding is either acceptable, unacceptable or a shade of gray in between.
Scenario 1: Mayweather Promotions and Gervonta Davis
In the aftermath of Gervonta Davis’ January 14th title winning outing against the formerly unbeaten Jose Pedraza, Floyd Mayweather was asked if he was interested in booking his new star talent against super featherweight’s number one fighter in Vasyl Lomachenko to which he responded: “We’re not rushing. We’re not thinking about Lomachenko.
“Lomachenko’s with Top Rank. Let him stay over there with Top Rank. That’s where he’s at. My guy’s gonna do his job and I’m gonna make sure I do my job to the best of my ability, to get what he want,” per Ring TV.
For all of his faults, Mayweather is a smart businessman and is, skill wise, one boxing’s greatest minds. To that point, he told his young fighter that he was still young and he should, for the moment, focus on how to “build that bank account, be smart, and make the right moves.”
Even though Mayweather has been criticized throughout his in-ring career for “ducking”, in this situation he is absolutely right to turn down the Lomachenko bout. Davis is incredibly talented and exciting, but he is still rising as a young star and has a lot left to prove before he is perceived as a threat to Lomachenko. If the fight was to be booked today, nobody would favor the newly crowned champ. Regardless of that, both he and his Ukrainian counterpart still have many match-ups available to them.
In this case, Mayweather is right to protect his fighter since delaying a bout between the two, for the moment, only makes a future match-up more enticing. Lomachenko can cement himself and pick up the rest of the division’s belts whilst Davis gets comfortable has a champion and gets the high-level reps that he needs to eventually stand opposite Lomachenko.
Shielding in this context is appropriate because it not only helps out the concerned fighter but also provides the fans and the promoter with more enticing opportunities down the line.
Scenario 2: Golden Boy Promotions and Canelo Alvarez
January 13th, Golden Boy Promotions officially announced a fight between their top fighter Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, much to the dismay of the boxing world.
On the one hand, the fight is probably going to make a lot of money but on the other, Canelo has nothing to gain and everything to lose in the match-up. Although Chavez Jr has a recognizable name, he hasn’t won a bout against a top-ten fighter since defeating Andy Lee in 2012 and has become somewhat of a laughing stock in the boxing community because of his laziness.
Canelo keeps stating that he wants to face Gennady Golovkin, after his past three fights he’s even stated as much in interviews, but every time the opportunity for the bout arises it somehow fails to materialize.
Not all of the blame for this should fall on Canelo, but his booking as of late has seen him dispatch of two undersized fighters, when he is supposed to be preparing for a bigger fighter, and this upcoming bout with Chavez Jr, although he is more appropriately sized, doesn’t seem like an appropriate tune-up for a battle with “GGG”. While the Kazakh is cleaning out a division of fighters who are running from him, the Mexican superstar is fighting the remains of a division that he has outgrown.
The only fights that make sense, or even seem competitive, for Alvarez at this point are a rematch with Erislandy Lara, who arguably beat him in their 2014 bout, or the fight with Golovkin that everyone wants to see.
Canelo is a confident, pound-for-pound elite fighter who is not only a consummate favorite in his division but also seemingly a top fighter one division up and has nothing to gain, and that’s why his bout with Chavez Jr is an example of a situation where shielding your fighter is unacceptable.
Canelo could be making more money, putting on better fights and furthering his legacy by facing opposition that is on his level, but is instead he’s relegated to making an easy payday for his promoter in a fight that no one really wants to see.
Scenario 3: Matchroom Boxing and Chris Eubank Jr
Chris Eubank Jr presents us with the perfect gray area in the shielding issue. The son of the British great has become quite a draw due to his name, his vicious in-ring style, and his constant smack talk. He has pull with fans and media alike that would usually warrant him being on a bigger stage than he is currently on.
However, he hasn’t really fought anyone that warrants him to call out the fighters that he’s been challenging. In his past three fights, he has faced Tom Doran, Nick Blackwell and Gary O’Sullivan and is going to be facing the 11-1 Renold Quinlan on February 4. All good fighters, but none of those wins should warrant bouts with the men he’s calling out, especially considering that he lost his only bout to a top level opponent in Billy Joe Saunders in 2014.
Eubank has, over the past year, called out Gennady Golovkin, Daniel Jacobs, Billy Joe Saunders and most recently James DeGale, but no one expects these matches to materialize, and to be honest it’s hard to take Eubank Jr seriously considering the calibre of opposition that he’s faced while criticizing higher ranked, more proven fighters.
What makes this situation a gray area is the fact that Eubank Jr probably isn’t ready to face the opposition that he keeps calling out. Matchroom is trying to be smart and build him back up slowly to prepare him for his second shot at the big time, but fans want to see what Eubank keeps promising. The longer they wait to make those fights, the more the interest in them disappears.
A game of ups and downs
Bringing up a fighter in the right way is like playing chess with one-hundred different pieces. Every fighter is unique, some need developing, some need confidence, some can’t help but hurt themselves, and others can jump into the deep end on day one.
A promoter’s job is to bring up their fighter in a way that not only maximizes their earning potential but also cements their skill and hopefully earns them the respect that they need to create a lasting legacy, regardless of wins and losses.
What makes booking so difficult in boxing is that no fighters are really obligated to fight each other. As opposed to MMA or kickboxing, boxing is much less of an overall show and production and much more of a main event only, cult of personality type of show. For every Manny Pacquiao, Mike Tyson or Muhammad Ali that find a way to endear themselves to the public and sellout regardless of losses, millions of talented fighters are relegated to the undercard due to blemished records or lack of a particular captivating trait or story.
Every decision needs to either be justified or project strength and that’s why Pacquiao, Tyson and Ali are loved by most people. Every fight that they took made sense for the situation that they found themselves in, and when the time was right they stepped up and proved themselves against the best, and that’s ideally what good promotion can do for a fighter.
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